Q&A with Victoria Kwakwa

Victoria Kwakwa, Vice President, World Bank, East Asia & the Pacific, delivered the welcome address at GFSP's December 2016 dialogue in Singapore "Building Trust and Capacity for Safe Food in Asia" held in collaboration with Food Industry Asia (FIA).  We spoke  with her to discuss her thoughts about food safety challenges and opportunities in the region.

Q1. How would you characterize the food safety landscape in Asia today?

A1: It's changing. While there is still certainly a focus on trade-related issues, such as trying to ensure exporter access to high-income country markets where more stringent food safety standards are applied, countries in Asia are facing greater food safety challenges at home. Food safety is now seen as a food security problem. Major dietary and life-style changes are occurring. While modern value chains are growing, most Asian countries still feature very large and fragmented informal food systems. These are difficult to regulate. While public expectations are rising, food safety awareness and the underlying systems for food hazard surveillance and managing food safety risks are still underdeveloped.

Q2. What is the way forward for policy-makers as well as food manufacturers and suppliers?

A2: Well, of course it is critical to create and support mechanisms for relationship-building and dialogue, such as the GFSP. That's because there is an enormous capacity building challenge in implementing effective risk-based food safety management systems. Meeting this challenge will require close collaboration between the public and private sectors, at country, regional, and international levels. Just as we have catalyzed meaningful global public-private partnership programs in such areas as public health, climate change, infrastructure, disaster risk management, environmental protection, and more, so too can we coordinate around global food safety.

Q3: How have changes in the landscape impacted the World Bank's approach to food safety?

A3: We continue to evolve and expand our work to reflect the changing interest of clients as well as advances in our own understanding of the opportunities. In the early 2000s, for example, we provided analysis and technical assistance focused on trade and international market access issues, including providing the initial funding for the formation of the Standards and Trade Development Facility, housed at the  World Trade Organization (WTO)

More recently, we are approaching food safety as a broader economic development issue, with linkages to public health, nutrition, domestic food market development, smallholder farm commercialization, and public administration and governance issues.

Our interventions related to food safety are being embedded into a growing range and number of investment projects. We are currently supporting food safety capacity building in 20 countries, including China and Vietnam.  Interventions include the upgrading of laboratory facilities and urban public market places, enhancing regulatory oversight capacity at national and provincial levels, aligning local standards with international best practice, and promoting good agricultural and manufacturing practices in selected food value chains. At the same time, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has been expanding its food safety advisory work with private-sector clients. Its work often involves addressing both management systems within company facilities and the needed supply chain governance measures in their sourcing of products and raw materials.

We are hopeful that our work can be effective in addressing the dual challenge of strengthening regulations and improving capacities and practices of farmers and food industry players to help lower consumer exposure to food safety hazards and importantly, maintaining or restoring consumer trust in the safety of their food and in the systems which are supposed to ensure this.

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